10 minute read

LEADERSHIP ANCHORAGE

“I Always Knew I Wanted To Come Back”

Jason Metrokin, LA alumnus and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corporation, reflects on education, diverse thinking, and his path to leadership

Four years ago, Jason Metrokin said something that has resonated like an echo. “Bristol Bay is one of the few intact ecosystems in the world. It’s a sprawling watershed overflowing with salmon and abundant with berries, moose, and birds. The views from here are magical, vast, and transcendent. There are few things I love more than going out to the edge of town—to any village or town in Bristol Bay—and looking across the tundra, a river, or the forest. Here, I can stand back and reflect upon the beautiful region that supports our people, our culture, and our economy.”

Metrokin was fresh out of college when he first visited Bristol Bay. He was working for the National Bank of Alaska and made a trek to Dillingham and Togiak. Jason’s father had been raised in Naknek be fore his family moved to Kodiak Island. Still, “I knew I had roots, maybe not directly in these communities, but certainly I had roots in this region. I felt at home.”

Metrokin’s father was in the National Guard and had travelled to nearly every village in the state, numerous times. This was a bridge for Metrokin. “I was an urban, Native kid who grew up in Anchorage. Yet people in Dillingham and Togiak knew my name because of my father. And here I finally had this opportunity to explore rural Alaska, village by village, and even though I wasn’t from there, I was accepted because people knew my family.”

“One of the things I love most about Alaska— about rural Alaska—is that if you’re open and honest and show that you are trustworthy, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. You become part of a family.”

Taking Flight

Metrokin grew up in Midtown, a modest, low-income neighborhood in West Anchorage, before his family moved to the south end of the city. One of the things he appreciates most about his hometown

is its diversity. “Most people don’t realize how diverse Anchorage is. We have well over a hundred, maybe 150, languages spoken in our school system. I went to school with kids who were Alaska Native, African American, Asian American, Pacific Islander.”

The diversity shaped his world view. From the time he was a teenager, Metrokin knew he wanted to leave Alaska to experience a different way of being and seeing. Yet he always knew he’d return. “Alaska has a magnetism. There’s something that draws people here. I think it’s the same thing that brings people home after they’ve left. I believe it’s important for young people to spread their wings, to experience something different. That’s what I wanted to do. But I always knew that I wanted to come back.”

Metrokin ventured to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts—about as far as you can fly from Alaska in the Lower 48—where he studied business and marketing. He describes his experience as almost like being on an island. Only one other student was from west of the Mississippi, a friend from Irvine, “When a young person leaves California. “I got asked the same questions day in and day out for and doesn’t return, we’re losing four years—What are you doing here? Where is Alaska, even? Do an asset—family, history, talent, you live in igloos? Do you accept the U.S. dollar there?” Alaska was and continuity.” an enigma—a place so far away and out of touch it was mythology.

“I was out of my element, which is a total understatement, and it really gave me thick skin.”

Metrokin was homesick. His college experience— and the distance—taught him to appreciate what makes his home state so special, while also seeing the distinct and defining qualities of faraway places. “There are so many things that make Alaska unique— the natural beauty, the Native cultures. But there are great things happening in the rest of the world, too. Let’s not discount that. And let’s not assume that what someone else might be doing in Western Massachusetts or Seattle or in London or Fort Worth can’t be done here. Our young people need to spread their wings—to see and experience the world. And ideally, they’ll bring what they see and what they learn back home.”

Why is that so important? “When a young person leaves and doesn’t return, we’re losing an asset—family, history, talent, and continuity.”

On Mentorship

After leaving the National Bank of Alaska, Metrokin entered the nonprofit sector and worked with a mentor,

Join a Network of Changemakers. Apply now for Leadership Anchorage 24!

TRANSFORM YOUR LEADERSHIP

LA participants practice and strengthen essential 21st century leadership competencies including facilitation, coaching, collaboration, and team-building. Through assessments and interactive activities, you will develop an understanding of how you show up in the world and tap into your vision, mission, and purpose.

AMPLIFY AND DIVERSIFY YOUR NETWORKS

LA is a unique opportunity to become a part of a powerful, diverse community of leaders from a wide range of industries, backgrounds, ages, and experiences. Participants learn from one another as they explore topics of race, privilege, and power and develop an understanding of the complex systems in which we work and live.

Throughout the program, participants are introduced to new organizations, individuals, venues, and connection points across the city. You will build close, supportive relationships within your cohort and across our powerful network of over 400 LA alumni and mentors.

ACTIVATE IDEAS INTO ACTION

If you aspire to make a real difference in your community or organization, your LA “Level Up” project provides the perfect opportunity to step boldly into that vision. Whether you already have a project that matters to you or are looking for an opportunity to make an impact, LA provides both structure and support as you tackle real, immediate needs within your organization and/or the Anchorage community.

APPLY FOR LEADERSHIP ANCHORAGE 24

LA24 will begin in October 2020 and run through May 2021 with a schedule of monthly sessions for a cohort of up to 24 participants selected to represent a wide range of experiences, backgrounds, and professional sectors from across the Anchorage bowl. Applications are due September 1. More at akhf.org/leadership-anchorage.

SAVE THE DATE TUES., AUGUST 25, 6 P.M. Celebrating Leadership in Alaska

Join us for this annual celebration to connect with leaders from across our community in recognizing the vital role of leadership in Alaska. • Presentation of the 2020 LA Alumni Award to Jason

Metrokin (LA2), President & CEO, Bristol Bay Native

Corporation • Remarks by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, Senator Lisa

Murkowski, and other community leaders • Celebration of the graduating cohort of LA23 Join us from your home; the event will be streamed live across multiple platforms. More details soon at akhf.org/ leadership-anchorage

Byron Malott, a family friend, an Alaska Native leader, and a former lieutenant governor—someone Metrokin credits with shaping him, in part because of Malott’s vi sion and courage. The two had become friends years before, when Metrokin was asked to find a mentor as part of his participation in the Leadership Anchorage Program—an initiative of the Alaska Humanities Forum. “I didn’t know him at the time. And I coldcalled him. I asked him to join the program, to be my mentor. And he “Let’s take our place at the didn’t hesitate.” “One of the things Byron taught table and shape our state’s me was that, yes, Alaska Natives have experienced injustices for devision and policy. Let’s cades. We’ve been discriminated against and cast aside. But we have shape our future.” a seat at the table now. We’re here. And we’re not going anywhere. Let’s take our place at the table and shape our state’s vision and policy. Let’s shape our future. “And he told people what he thought. He was kind, family-oriented, but didn’t have much of a filter, in the best way. And everyone knew him. He was an absolute legend in the Alaska Native community, and he invited me everywhere.”

Leadership Counts

Find the right boss. This was another piece of advice Metrokin picked up along the way, from one of his leaders at the National Bank of Alaska. “Especially for young people—you’re definitely going to have more than one job throughout your career. So, maybe don’t worry so much about the job itself. But definitely think about finding the right person to lead you. The person who will appreciate you, who will treat you fairly. The person who will give you challenges and help move you along to the next great thing.

“As a leader, I learn new things every day, whether I like it or not. Leadership to me is about being fair, clear, transparent, honest, accountable, and trustworthy. I think, sadly, that in today’s society some of these things have gone to the wayside. It’s sad to see a lack of positive leaders and role models and mentors.”

Stand Out

Eleven years ago, Jason Metrokin became CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC). During his tenure, BBNC has grown from an Alaska Native Corporation that was willingly flying under the radar, a company that in the late 90s had but one subsidiary, to a $1.9 billion enterprise with subsidiaries and companies operating in every U.S. state, as well as in eleven foreign countries. Today, BBNC has five business lines, 4,500 employees, and 11,000 shareholders who receive reliable and growing dividends year upon year. The company’s brand is defined by standing out in front, leading the way, and, at times, taking a stand.

Metrokin credits BBNC’s success with diversification—both in terms of business lines, yet also in terms of its employees and welcoming varying points of view. “You need people that bring different perspectives. Yes, they’re committed to our plan. And yes, they’re committed to our strategy and to their teams. But we need people to bring different perspectives to the table. We’re diverse in our thinking. We’re not afraid to approach things differently or to stand out from the pack.”

Another thing that defines the culture and character of BBNC is the company’s roots in salmon fishing. Metrokin describes the legacy of thinking in the commercial fishing industry this way—if it’s broken, you can fix it. If you don’t have it, you can build it or invent it. If you’re off the grid, you learn to survive on your own. “I think that entrepreneurial, hardworking spirit has helped define us as a company.

“Nowhere in the world is there a fishing culture akin to Bristol Bay. Living off the land, living off of this resource—fish—is what makes Bristol Bay unique. And it makes BBNC stand apart.”

Here For Each Other

Bristol Bay, like much of Alaska, is a melting pot. Yup’ik, Alutiiq, and Dena’ina people are indigenous to the region. Yet commercial fishing, which dates back almost 150 years, brought Asian, Filipino, Scandinavian, Italian, and other wanderers to Bristol Bay, seeking a fortune in fishing. The traditions, histories, and stories of these newcomers melded with the indigenous ways—millenia old—of Alaska Natives to create a rich and diverse culture in this remote corner of the world. “As a leader, I learn Diversity and inclusion are a thread in Metrokin’s career and worldview. new things every day, “Growing up where I did, growing up whether I like it or not.” how I did, it all helped open my eyes to cultures, traditions, and beliefs that helped me embrace diversity, very early on in life. I wish everyone had the opportunity to open their eyes and their hearts and understand that we’re all here for each other.

“If more of that was happening now, we might not be facing some of the challenges we’re facing today.” ■

Kevin Patnik is a writer and the Vice President of Brand Strategy at Strategies 360. Throughout his career, he’s committed himself to helping individuals and organizations uncover and articulate the stories that define them.